Suffered Under Pontius Pilate

As I wrote the other day, one of the books I am currently reading is Brother David Steindl-Rast’s, Deeper than Words, each chapter of which is devoted to a different line of the Apostles’ Creed. The first part of each chapter is his attempt to “pry open the hard shell of preconceived notions that tend to form around set expressions we hear or use too often.” Among the chapters that have really struck me is the one titled “Suffered Under Pontius Pilate.”

Because Brother Daviid’s central claim is that the Creed is not “an enumeration of facts that Christians hold to be true, but a multifaceted profession of faith in God,” he views the claim in the Creed that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate” as something that must have significance beyond the mere historical reality that a man named Jesus suffered under a representative of the Roman Empire named Pilate. Instead, the juxtaposition of this line with the preceding claim that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary

draws our attention to opposite poles: there a woman who gives life, here, the man who kills; there, the vulnerable virgin, here, the powerful politician; there, a new beginning in the power of the Spirit, here, its destruction by the spirit of power. Because Jesus stands for God’s world order he must clash with an upside-down disorder that calls itself order. In this collission, however, he suffers shipwreck.

The phrase “Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate” reminds us that there is a cost to discipleship, it tells us that if we are people of faith who follow the example of Jesus, there will be a price. To proclaim belief in the reality that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate

means I know who the top dogs of the world are – then and now; I know them by name, and I know what suffering they can inflict on those who speak up; and yet I put my ultimate trust in Jesus Christ the underdog. It means I know what happened to him and is likely to happen in one way or another to his true followerse, and yet, I commit myself, as the Quakers do, “to speak truth to power.”

Brother David’s reading makes recitation of the Creed deeply challenging. It is easy to give intellectual assent to the factual proposition that a Roman representative named Pontius Pilate had a man named Jesus tortured and killed. It is a lot harder to commit oneself to “speak truth to power” as Jesus did (and as did the martyrs of whom I spoke several days ago), knowing what a tremendous cost it may require of us.